SF State President Corrigan, comment on 20 years at the helm

An SF State journalism student called asking me what I thought of President Robert A. Corrigan’s running of SF State for 20 years. Here is what I wrote.

 

I have the experience of seeing Dr. Corrigan from a number of perspectives over the last 14 or so years. As a student I often wondered where he was when I attended various events on campus. It seemed to me that he was better known off campus, even nationally where he was doing commendable work, than here at home. (I heard rumors that the university did have a president, and a friend in journalism used to joke about doing a headline in the Golden Gator announcing a “Corrigan sighting” on campus.) Later, as an employee of the university, where Dr. Corrigan was essentially my boss but insulated with many layers of middle managers, my perception of him and awareness of his direction of the university slowly grew. As I developed professionally with increasing responsibilities I had sparse direct contact but was learning what was important to him. (For example, a successful commencement “makes the boss happy,” and it’s nice to get his acknowledgement each year for a job well done — SF State has an awesome campus-wide team headed by Norma Siani, who has been here more than 50 years.) For the past 10 years, as a union leader on campus, I have dealt directly with his manager-representatives always wondering how much their positions were informed by his wishes. Again, not having any direct contact and certainly never meeting with him to discuss staff issues like I understand the faculty do regularly and other non-faculty staff leaders do on other campuses in the CSU.

 

 

In the last few months, with the growth of the Alliance for the CSU, I’ve had more direct contact with him than all the previous years combined. We lobbied state elected officials together and shared the stage to rally the campus behind the effort to get the CSU adequately funded and to stop the student fee increases in the state budget battle. Now, he regularly calls upon me for my staff-informed perspective when I attend the University Budget Committee meetings as a concerned bystander. I’ve always enjoyed his writings and speeches and I sometimes feel that the rest of campus should know about them. But you have to seek them out. His last two convocation speeches were very moving. He spoke personally and passionately about his own experiences in academia and how the Civil Rights Movement shaped his life. But the listeners were primarily new faculty and administrators. For the most part, the rest of the campus has no idea who he is and what makes him tick.

 

On some crucial questions I can only surmise where he stands. Where is he on the major issues facing all universities: the corporate takeover of America and universities being relegated to “serving the master” producing cogs to fit corporate wheels rather than turning out informed, critical-thinking citizens in our quasi-democratic experiment with nationhood? The expansive growth of the development office in the last ten years could be merely an indication of necessity and expediency; are there any attendant concerns for the integrity of the institution? I can only hope. From my experience there is a marked disconnect between the administration of the university and the legacy of SF State as a part of the 1960-era questioning of the status quo. True, we have the only college-level ethnic studies department but maybe it should be an ethnicity and worker studies college. How are the lowest among us treated and how do the intersections with race and gender play out right under our noses every day?

 

In the end it comes down to this. A university structure is the last vestige of feudalism and Corrigan is the lord of the manor. However, even Corrigan himself is still but a worker (true, a very privileged one with lots of say over his own and other’s lives comparative to say a janitor), but a worker with less job security than I have because he is an at-will employee and I have collective bargaining protections. Ultimately, even he, as powerful as he may seem, has to answer to the king.

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